Hualapai Language Revitalization and Literacy

Conner Kolter Hualapai Language Revitalization and Literacy The Hualapai Indians, like many other indigenous societies, have faced the continuing threat of losing their culture. For this particular society, through perseverance, hard work and a helping hand from many people outside the Native American community, the Hualapai’s have been able to provide a writing system for their endangered language. This step has proven to be crucial in keeping the language and has also become an example for other Native American tribes who worry about their mother language becoming extinct.

This success story has become a symbol that not all is lost if effort is put into something that is deeply cared about. A culture and society’s language is one of, if not the most, important aspects to what makes them different from everyone else. Without that attribute, the people that belong to that language can feel lost and lose a sense of who they are. In the Hualapai culture, members who were in school in the 1930’s were forced to attend an English-only speaking school where the Hualapai language would be physically beaten out of them.

Those children, who are now the grandparents of the present children of the small tribe, stress the importance of learning their native language considering how large a presence English has around them. With the new writing system, the members of the Hualapai tribe can keep their language and have it passed down from generation to generation. Learning more than one linguistic system is a challenge and when teaching the mother language at home is its only exposure, it becomes harder to develop those multilingual skills.

With the difficulties that come with learning two languages, some children give up learning one, usually the native tongue and with advancing languages such as English in the business and political world, children might not even learn their cultural language at home. Just as quickly as these dominant languages have been growing, indigenous tongues have been disappearing. A major portion of why native languages become extinct is because of schools. A majority of schools are taught only in English but it doesn’t end there.

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Parents at home may not want to teach their children to speak the native tongue because of the fear that they will be behind everyone else and not have an equal opportunity to become successful in the outside world because of a language barrier (Lavenda and Schultz 2013, 49-50). This is exactly the case with the Hualapai Indians. In a day where you must be fluent in English, parents have realized that the sacrifice of not choosing to teach their language would be worth it, if their children got a full education out of it. In this case however, the Hualapai’s had unconditional support from the outside community.

In the public schools, now that there was a written language for these Native Americans, people fought for classrooms to be bilingual. Without the invention of the written form of this language, this innovative idea would not have been possible. The Hualapai language underwent language revitalization; “creating grammars, dictionaries and archival and educational materials designed to teach and preserve these languages for the future” (Lavenda and Schultz 2013, 50). This creation is extremely important to their society because is a new way for the Hualapai’s to express their language and allows them to expand and solidify their cultural too.

The writing system for this language was a new concept to everyone, even to the speakers themselves. Because it is something that has to be learned socially, it has become a part of their culture now. Now that they are able to write their spoken language, they are better suited to adapt to the changing world. They can carry on learning in English, but now they can also enjoy learning about their culture while adding on to it without the stress of falling behind in the outside world (class notes, September 7, 2012).

There are many advantages that are to be considered now that the Hualapai language has caught up with other languages in the sense of how they can be expressed. Because, the public high school where the teenage Hualapai Indians attend now teach courses in both languages, members from the tribe are coming forward asking to have their skills taught to the students so that the information they know can be passed down. This is a gain for both the natives and for community members outside the tribe.

For example, a daughter of a medicine man came to the school wanting to teach about the different plants that can be used for medical uses. This is a perfect instance where cultural borrowing is taking place. A natural tendency that occurs when two or more cultures come in contact with each other and borrow ideas and practices is known as acculturation (Lavenda and Schultz 2012, 185). This process is not a bad habit either. Each culture doesn’t just take the ideas and practices as they are but change them and incorporate them into their own culture so that there is meaning and importance behind them.

For the Palm Springs, Arizona community learning about the Hualapai practices of ethnobotany expands their awareness of the tribe and is also helpful for learning new ways to treat suffering. Due to this new writing system brought forth for the Hualapai Indians, many opportunities came into the light for them. Incorporating a writing system allowed the tribe to keep their language alive and thriving. Now that their language is being taught and freely spoken outside the reservation, members don’t have to worry about children not gaining their place in the world for the fear of falling behind if they only spoke their native tongue.

Most of the tribe members are becoming more in touch with their heritage and new culture now that there is a writing system that needs to be learned. It has given the small population pride of who they are and they are able to further their history by means of writing down their cultural traditions, practices, vocabulary. Because there is a physical form of their language, the Hualapai Indians can keep their language and pass it down to the next generations. They can inform others about who they are, what they believe.

They have finally made a place in the world for themselves because of the radical progress they made for themselves and hopefully can make the same positive change for other indigenous tribes on the brink of losing their language and culture. Bibliography Martin del Campo, Edgar. “Defining “Culture”. ” Class lecture, Core Concepts in Anthropology from University of New Hampshire, Durham, September 7, 2012. Lavenda, Robert H.. , and Emily Ann Schultz. Core concepts in cultural anthropology. 5th ed. Mountain View, Calif. : Mayfield, 2013.

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